The 5:2 diet is pretty much the most revolutionary thing to happen in the weight-loss world since Atkins. We've seen more new diets come and go (gluten-, dairy- and soya-free) than we've had hot dinners, but nothing's caused the kind of ripples that 5:2 has in a long time. We're chalking a large part of that success up to the fact that a) it seems to work, and b) it's totally foolproof.
Unlike other meal plans that make you forage high and low for super-niche ingredients or require hours in the kitchen tirelessly meal-prepping, 5:2 (also known as "the fast diet") is easy to follow and can also be done pretty thriftily if you're on a budget.
Intrigued? This fasting diet follows a very straightforward premise: For five days a week, you eat normally, without too much regard for calorie counting. The other two days you stick to a strict 500 calorie intake (Ed note: If you're a man, you get 600 calories). Of course, 500 calories a day is very restrictive and wouldn't be advisable as an everyday long-term weight loss solution, but by sticking to it for two days a week, you put your body into "fast mode." There's lots of research to support the health benefits of intermittent fasting: It seems to lead to less muscle loss than other diets, and it may reduce insulin levels.
Then, of course, there's the obvious—by cutting the "active dieting" down to two days a week, that's a heck of a lot less time you have to spend crunching numbers in the kitchen and in the supermarket. But it means you are still eating around 2000 fewer calories each week. You can plan out your fast day meals in advance and what's more, you choose the fast days that suit you. Planning to have a "fast day" on Tuesday, then realize it's happy hour and two-for-one on tacos? No problem; you can simply switch your fast day to whenever it works for you. The only rule? You can't do two fasting days consecutively.
On your fast days, with only 500 calories to play around with, you're going to want to be strategic. Think about your typical working weekday (no one on team Byrdie fancied a weekend fast, thanks very much). Are you more prone to a 4 p.m. slump, or do you crave calories until lunch then feel your appetite slip away a little more? Based on your appetite, choose when in the day to have a bigger meal, and when to have a more spartan snack.
The flexibility and fuss-free nature of 5:2 make it ideal for busy girls (Jennifer Aniston and Miranda Kerr are reportedly fans, and you know those ladies are on their grind), plus the plan has legions of fans who swear by the speed at which it helped them shift pounds.
We asked Kamilla Schaffner, a leading clinical nutritionist of My London Nutritionist, to share her six favorite fast day recipes. Here are her top tips.
Tuna and Slaw Supper
"Take a small piece (120gr) of very fresh tuna and sear on each side for no longer than one minute. Chop half a large avocado into small cubes, add chopped chives, one teaspoon of olive oil and juice of half a lime. Shred about a quarter of a small purple cabbage and add a small amount of chopped fresh rosemary, one tablespoon of grapeseed oil, a tablespoon of rice vinegar and season to taste. The fresh tomato salsa is optional but adds water and some lycopene content."
Total calories: 280kcal, which leaves you 220 calories for the rest of the day.
Chickpea and Steak Dinner
"This is a protein-packed supper that includes both animal and vegan protein. Chickpeas are not only high in vegan protein, but they are also fiber powerhouses vital for digestive health and regularity. The addition of flowering cauliflower is a bonus, but if you don't have any, just use regular broccoli or cauliflower in unlimited amounts—it's all nutrients, fiber, and water!
"Take a regular-size steak (200gr), and cut in half—you'll only use half of it for this dish. I recommend using either rump or fillet cuts, as these are the leanest and give higher protein content per serving. Fry to your desired taste in a small amount of coconut oil. Season and set aside. In a separate pot, heat a tin of ready-cooked chickpeas, drained of water—you can use the whole tin. Add smoky paprika (goes very well with steak), ground coriander and dried turmeric for an added nutrient boost. Serve with steamed or flash boiled cauliflower florets."
Total calories: 405 kcal, with only 95 calories left, factor in a salad for lunch and drink plenty of water to help keep you full.
Mixed Yogurt Breakfast
This is a delight for those who love tropical flavors. Packed full of delicious fruits and protein, you won't even know it's your fast day! In a cereal bowl, mix four tablespoons of low-fat organic cow's yogurt with two tablespoons of coconut yogurt. Add finely chopped matchsticks of an apple and cubes of 1/2 a papaya. Sprinkle with one teaspoon of finely chopped almonds. If you like coffee, serve with a coconut milk cappuccino."
Total calories: 505 kcal. This blows the calorie budget, so we suggest splitting this into two portions to have late morning and late afternoon.
"This is perfect for those who love a savory kick first thing in the morning. Packed full of protein and fiber, it's a serious contender to a Full English. Mix a can of tuna in water with a small amount of chopped red onion and a handful of chopped rocket salad leaves. Get one tablespoon of low-fat yogurt, one teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a generous helping of Tabasco sauce and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, season to taste and mix very well. In a pan, melt 1/2 a teaspoon of coconut oil and flash sauté asparagus and some shiitake (or any) mushrooms. Scoop the tuna salad onto two gluten-free or Paleo high-protein crackers (quinoa or buckwheat)."
Total calories: 310 kcal. You'll be left with 190 calories, so try crudités with salsa for lunch and miso soup with zero-calorie noodles for dinner.
Sushi Fat-Burner Supper
"This is for anyone who's too tired to cook and tends to buy their dinner somewhere else. Look no further than your local Japanese café (this supper is from Wasabi takeaway box!) or supermarket aisle selling sashimi. Fresh raw fish (salmon and tuna here) is one of the best sources of lean protein and the side of seaweed that is always a part of any Japanese takeaway box is a major fat burner, as its high iodine content will rev up your thyroid and metabolism very gently but effectively. And edamame beans are packed full of fiber and plant-based protein. Did I say it is absolutely delicious too?"
Total Calories: 290 kcal. High in protein, this will keep you fuller for longer, ideal if you tend to reach for snacks after dinner.
Egg-White Omelette Breakfast
"This is a big meal, but it's packed full of vital protein and fiber to get you through the fasting day. It's one whole egg, 2 egg whites beaten and fried in a small amount of coconut oil into an omelet. At the very end, add a small amount of dried dill to enhance diuretic properties. The teaspoon of fresh tomato salsa is optional. Add 2 tablespoons of low-fat organic dairy yogurt, with 2 tablespoons of fresh pomegranate seeds and 1 teaspoon of paleo gluten-free granola on the side for a touch of sweetness. I've also added another side of half a grapefruit and a coconut milk cappuccino."
Total calories: 351 kcal. This breakfast meal will set you up for the day and leaves you with enough calories should you need something small later.
Barnosky AR, Hoddy KK, Unterman TG, Varady KA. Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Transl Res. 2014;164(4):302-311. doi:10.1016/j.trsl.2014.05.013